What is this "game"? How do I play it? And why, apparently, am I so bad at it?
December 5, 2012 7:44 PM   Subscribe

What is this "game"? How do I play it? And why, apparently, am I so bad at it?

I'm kind of kidding about the "bad" part, at least. Here's the deal: I'm 26, have a job I love, have a great apartment in NY, and am generally happy with my life. I volunteer, have great friends, and feel well-rounded and fulfilled. I'm overwhelmingly lucky to have what I have. The only thing I'm unhappy about is the fact that I'm terribly lonely, and dating in NY (or in general) is certainly not helping.

I've only had one relationship in my life, which ended mutually. The rest were all flings that ended in rejection (on their end). The result is debilitating anxiety and fear of being rejected, no matter the circumstances.

Presently, I've met someone I think is great. We've gone on a few dates, he's making an honest effort to pursue it--BUT, he's playing "the game." (I.E., lagging between communication, seeing each other every 10 days, etc.) I'm being extremely careful not to push things. As much as I hate the "rules," whatever they are, plenty of my friends here have insisted I abide by them, since stuff has never worked out for me in the past. We're not sleeping together. I'm not comfortable with that until I know it's headed somewhere solid.

I'm actively aware of the fact that such "rules" are bullshit, and the right person will like you regardless. But it's not helping quell my anxiety that this person will straight up disappear.

I know this isn't a unique situation. But I'd like any thoughts on how to A) conquer anxiety, or at least learn how to work around it. B) How to play whatever this "game" is. Because frankly, it sucks.
posted by shotinthedark to Human Relations (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For both (A) and (B): don't date people who do this crap. It's a big world. Find people who don't relate to others based on bullshit rules written by overblown adolescents.
posted by ellF at 7:54 PM on December 5, 2012 [38 favorites]

Aw, honey. Tell your friends to eff off and listen to Ol' Auntie JulThumbscrew's First Rule of Relationships: if a (normal, sane, neurotypical) guy really likes you - really, REALLY likes you - he will move heaven and earth to demonstrate this, and you will NOT have to play stupid, false "games" of any sort, and you will NOT have to justify his actions to yourself constantly ("he's interested, he's just game-playing!").

At your age, I was terribly lonely and dating around in NYC's sixth, inferiority complex-plagued borough (Philadelphia). I was TERRIBLE at playing the game - I'm really, really lousy at behaving in any way other than organic, natural, logical and honest. I had many horrendous short-term relationships that made me question whether I was fundamentally broken, or whether there WERE certain "rules" that I needed to play by (despite the fact that I'd be utterly incapable of doing so).

And then I met The Future Mr. JulThumbscrew. And within 24 hours of our first date, he e-mailed me to say, "I had a wonderful time - when can we do it again?" And I bounced up and down on my futon with glee, because, well... HONESTY! EXCITEMENT! NOT BEING COOLER-THAN-THOU!

Unless you are in some way inherently repellent (which I am sure you are not - you are on MeFi, and therefore witty and charming... aren't we all?), do NOT feel like you need to fundamentally alter the way in which you interact with guys in order to snag one. You don't. You just need to be a little patient, and aggressive in kicking any fish who ARE into game-playing out of your boat and back into the sea.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:54 PM on December 5, 2012 [48 favorites]

he's playing "the game."

Are you sure? Maybe he is really busy. Maybe he isn't that into you. Maybe he is really into you, but is fine with this level of contact and doesn't think anything of it.

As with any relationship, the trick is to fully express your feelings and what you want, and see what the other person does in response. Maybe it's too soon for that, maybe not. It's up to you to decide!
posted by 3FLryan at 7:54 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also: I would like to officially, publicly call bullshit on the popular "he's too busy" trope. I've been thinking about this. Unless he is a high-powered Wall Street exec OR a cardiothoracic surgeon, he's not THAT busy. And if he IS one of those things, he either has an assistant OR a scrub nurse who can commandeer his iPhone for five minutes to tap out a dictated "Miss you! Thinking about you! XOXO!" I wish someone had told ME this years ago and saved me a lot of self-loathing and anxiety and shame. I move that we officially rename "He's Too Busy" to "He's Too Busy... At Finding Ways to Avoid Making YOU a Priority!"
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:59 PM on December 5, 2012 [48 favorites]

Date more people. Date at a least two people at once, if you're seeing each one like every ten days. Don't let the stakes be so high with someone you've just met. I know that is easy to say, and rejection is hard to take, but most people you date a couple of times are not going to be someone you spend your life with.
posted by BibiRose at 8:01 PM on December 5, 2012 [17 favorites]

Maybe you're in the friend zone. Maybe he thinks you're not that into him. Instead of waiting around hoping he expresses interest, I'd try to be a little more aggressive, not clingy or over-the-top, but it sounds like right now no one is taking any initiative. Either it's because you both are waiting for the other people, or he isn't interested. You should find out instead of agonizing as you wait by the phone. Take a little action - a small, but deliberate amount.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:04 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also: I would like to officially, publicly call bullshit on the popular "he's too busy" trope

Maybe you're right. But, it's still not playing "the game," it's just that he doesn't like you all that much. Or, maybe he likes seeing you every ten days or so, casually, but you want more. Someone needs to say something.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Case in point: I'm now in a long-term relationship with a guy I dated very sporadically for months, and didn't hear from for weeks at a time, including during a whole holiday season. I don't think he was playing any games; I do think he was probably dating other people. Then we had the opportunity to spend time together, and things became exclusive pretty fast. If I'd listened to that "he's not into you" stuff, I would have given up on him. Not saying you need to have this style of dating. But I think if you want to know where things are going after a couple of dates, you're going to rule out a lot of interesting people.
posted by BibiRose at 8:19 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do your friends have what you want? That is, loving, supportive long term relationships? They might not know how to get what you are looking for.

The result is debilitating anxiety and fear of being rejected, no matter the circumstances.
My guess is that this cannot be resolved via dating, no matter how soon he calls.
posted by shothotbot at 8:24 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. He may have equally "helpful" friends telling him not to act too anxious. It's hard to say. He may not be playing any game, just shy or inexperienced or something else. Maybe his experience is that girls call him and he wonders why he doesn't hear from you.

It will be relatively easy to check. Just call the next day after your next date, say you had a great time and suggest another date sooner.

2. I think you're going to need to try to calm your expectations about this particular guy, because that is the thing that will drive him away. It probably seems to you that every opportunity MIGHT BE YOUR LAST, but it isn't. Not by a long shot! Don't overthink this guy so much that you end up unable to be yourself around him. Try to think of him as a new friend not "oh my gosh potential life mate". It is just way too early for that kind of thinking.
posted by Glinn at 8:26 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

As much as I hate the "rules," whatever they are, plenty of my friends here have insisted I abide by them, since stuff has never worked out for me in the past. We're not sleeping together. I'm not comfortable with that until I know it's headed somewhere solid.

You don't have to want what your friends want, and you don't have to go about getting what you want in the same manner that your friends go about getting what they want. If you want a relationship with a non-game-playing man that's headed somewhere solid, be a solid non-game-playing woman. Consider the early dates with a new person as valuable experiences in their own right, regardless of whether they lead to LTRs or not.

Anxiety is a control thing ... you play the game because you want to control the outcome, which adds pressure to every interaction, which will affect the outcome! So stop worrying about the outcome and enjoy each experience. You will learn more about yourself and what you want that way, and gain confidence in how you go about getting it.
posted by headnsouth at 8:30 PM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

This game is stupid. I agree. For what it's worth, I've done my share of dating in NYC, and the guys who did this "game" with me, it never worked. They didn't really wanna put in the effort or let themselves show feelings for me. All of the guys I've dated that were just honest and we didn't have the game stuff were guys I dated long-term. Next time a guy tries the game thing on me I'm just calling it quits immediately because it is stupid. I would advise everyone else to do so too :)
posted by manicure12 at 8:42 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

No games! (say that in the Edna Mode accent from The Incredibles when she says, "No capes!")

I didn't play games and I've been married for 20+ years. So my advice is: keep going, keep dating, and absolutely, positively get rid of anyone who isn't making you really, really happy. The beginning of the relationship is going to be the easiest part, before the mortgage, the kids, aging, etc. If you're not loving it/him right now, keep moving along. There is someone great out there for you and no games are required to find him.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:53 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

There is no such thing as "the game" and anyone who plays games with you is not worth your time or effort. You shouldn't fear being rejected by people like this because you don't want to be accepted by them in the first place. I assure you that if this person straight up disappears, it will not be the end of it all. New York is a big place and there are (not to be cliche) plenty more where he came from -- hopefully someone will come along who will not put you through any hoops.

Good luck.
posted by patheral at 8:54 PM on December 5, 2012

Either this dude is attempting to play by the rules and if you try to contact HIM instead and break the rules he'll respond favorably, or he's not that into you and he's a coward and you're reading his not being that into you as him following the rules.

I think the problem with the games is that they're attempts to codify social rules that are already in place, but it's almost always taken too far in the direction of avoiding showing interest/emotion in an attempt to not be overly clingy or move too fast, emotionally, in the early stages of a relationship. So they make people seem overly disinterested. However, considering the size of the dating pool available, I've always had a lot more success with dropping the stupid game and going for people who say that they're interested in me instead of people who either aren't that interested or are feigning disinterest because of the game.

Anyway, I'd feel free to ditch the game, tell people when you're interested and go for it when they respond in kind. If they don't, they're either not into you or playing games that will just cause you anxiety and stress-- either way, they're not really worth pursing.
posted by NoraReed at 9:03 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't buy into this crap, and don't make excuses for him. If he was really interested, he wouldn't be playing games. Cut him loose and find someone who doesn't play games. They're out there.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also: I would like to officially, publicly call bullshit on the popular "he's too busy" trope.

This. I mean, I have known people who were working three jobs and taking care of children and a sick parent. They were busy. Everyone else has the time to send a text or email, give a call, or meet up for dinner on a routine basis.

Of course, if you haven't said "I'd like to see you more often," then it's a little unfair to assume he's playing games or is busy or whatever -- if neither of you is communicating, then neither of you really has a clue and all you are doing is speculating.
posted by Forktine at 9:34 PM on December 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

Unless you want to play "the game" for the rest of your life, don't even start.

If you're wondering where you stand, ask. The worst that can happen is that you'll find out he's not that into you, and it's better to know that sooner rather than later. The potential upside, on the other hand...
posted by bricoleur at 10:21 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

another reason the "too busy" thing is bullshit is that people who are too busy know they're too busy and either don't do a lot of dating, or tell the people they date upfront that they're too busy to get into anything serious right now. it's not like "too busy" descends out of the clouds.
posted by facetious at 10:48 PM on December 5, 2012

Screw that. If you're only seeing him every 10 days, and you think he's playing some sort of game, then It's not for you. Someone who's into you will never make you doubt it. Ditch that loser and find someone who actually likes you. Games are for losers. Really.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:22 AM on December 6, 2012

Maybe he doesn't know you enough to make you a priority yet. Many of the answers here have bought into your framing of this issue, and have either tacitly or explicitly accepted the idea that the only reasons this guy might not be "moving heaven and earth to be with you" is because he is either some sort of game-playing asshole, or he's just not that into you (in the sense that he never really will be all that into you.) But you've said you've only been on a "few" dates, and you aren't having sex. Maybe he needs to get to know you. Maybe he's dating several women and you haven't yet distinguished yourself from that pack. Maybe he is too busy (too busy to make you a priority is exactly what "too busy" has always meant).

Your question reads like you're seeing this guy as some sort of adversary. Sure, maybe he's an asshole, but I'm not sure any of us know that. Why don't you try talking to him about what he wants and what you want? And I know you've been hurt, but you might consider the kinds of situations it sets up when you assume the worst about the people you're dating.
posted by OmieWise at 5:02 AM on December 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

Wow! Checked in this morning, thanks for the overwhelming response.

Just for clarification--dude's been a total gentleman and totally has pursued this. He even lost his phone and tracked down my email address via friends. We've been talking every other day, it's just that Thanksgiving/etc. got in the way. BUT, there's always that lingering doubt. We've only seen each other three times. Things have been pretty consistent, but he's been totally out of touch this week (for no reason at all).

Basically: I don't know if it's a game, if it's a personal thing, or if something (one) else is going on. It's confusing. But, everyone here has motivated me to ask him out for the weekend. If he says no, it'll be tough, but better than being anxious every. single. day.

(Also: BiBi Rose, I don't usually date 2 people at once. Not as a rule, just that it's not my priority. I tried that when I first moved here, and it went terribly.)

Thanks everyone!
posted by shotinthedark at 6:29 AM on December 6, 2012

I once read someone say that these little rituals are things that we do to learn more about someone and that we should have empathy for it because we are all, in the end, quite insecure about getting hurt.

The other thing is this, a lot of time we thing people are playing a game when they're not. If this guy is contacting you every other day, it looks OK to me.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:44 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ironmouth: he was, but this has been a week of radio silence (out of nowhere). He asked me out Saturday, I said no, as it was 10pm and I already had plans. Don't know if he took it as rejection, but I'm going to find out, I suppose.
posted by shotinthedark at 7:23 AM on December 6, 2012

I agree with AppleTurnover.

Also, is it possible that you may have given him any impressions that you're not really that interested?

People call it "the game," but it takes two people to play...is he the one making the most effort/communication/etc.?
posted by n1c35h07 at 7:30 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think there's a compromise "rules" method - basically, be sensible about it. Don't be too invested but do show interest. Don't be available out of the blue at 10p on a Saturday night, but do invite him out for another time. Reading your update, I think he's showing interest and you're doing okay. (You should still ask him out for the weekend!)
posted by mrs. taters at 7:46 AM on December 6, 2012

"He asked me out Saturday, I said no, as it was 10pm and I already had plans. Don't know if he took it as rejection, but I'm going to find out, I suppose."

One suggestion to avoid misunderstanding: if someone asks you out and you're interested but you have a legitimate conflict which requires you to turn down the invitation, make it clear with some sort of counter-offer.

"I'm sorry, but I already have comittments for tonight. I'd like to see you, though. Can you give me a call during the week and we could make plans for next Saturday?"

This avoids the problem where he thinks you're turning him down because you aren't interested.
posted by tdismukes at 7:56 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I did, actually--for the next day, but he was busy. Sent a follow up email on Monday as per usual, but didn't hear back until yesterday.

Still asking with a solid plan. Thanks for the advice, everyone!
posted by shotinthedark at 8:16 AM on December 6, 2012


Call him to make a date. If he accepts, then it's cool. If he doesn't respond then he wasn't that interested and you can move on.

It sounds like you're acting like a rational human. No, if a guy calls at 10pm to see if he can come over, and you're about to step out with your girls for cocktails, that isn't a misunderstanding, that's just the way it is.

There may be a reason he's not been in contact. It's okay to be up front with what you want. "You know, I really like you and I'd like to see you regularly. What do you think about that?"

Either he's cool with it or he's not, but there's no sense sweating this relationship if he's not in it with you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2012

You know what's weird--the advice from my friends in real life is completely, completely different than here. Every single person has said not to call, because there's a reason he's not doing it himself (note: he's set the precedent by asking the first 3 times).

But I think I'll go for it anyway. Thanks again!
posted by shotinthedark at 12:32 PM on December 6, 2012

Well, that's the game playing right there. The point several people have made here is that you don't really know what's going on until you ask him. There is a danger that you will get hurt in that process, but it will be upfront, honest, and you will be in control. There's just as much chance you will get hurt as things are proceeding (indeed, you seem a little hurt now), but without really knowing what's up.
posted by OmieWise at 12:43 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

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